If you know or suspect you have hearing loss, it makes sense to seek the facts about your hearing health status and learn what can be done about it. Your Doctor of Audiology will reviews the findings of your hearing assessment with you and explain recommend treatment options. If your hearing loss is diagnosed as a type untreatable by medications or surgical intervention, hearing aids may be the prescribed solution. If you are the type of person inclined to ignore treatment advice, it is particularly important that you also understand the ramifications of “doing nothing.”
Untreated hearing loss has considerable and far-reaching negative social, psychological, cognitive (mental/intellectual), and health effects in people of all ages. Youngsters who have even a mild or moderate untreated hearing loss encounter greater difficulties learning, developing speech, and building the important interpersonal skills necessary to foster self-esteem and succeed in school and life. Hearing loss in older adults was once viewed as a somewhat inconsequential part of aging, however research findings have changed that perspective drastically. Studies show substantial negative consequences (including increased risk of dementia, falls, hospitalizations, and diminished overall physical and mental health) tied to untreated hearing loss.
Although the brains of older adults shrink naturally with age, research indicates the rate of brain tissue loss appears to be particularly fast-tracked in adults with hearing deficits, especially in the areas of the brain that process information from sound and speech. These brain areas not only also have ties to memory and sensory integration, but they are notably involved in early stages of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
When a person can’t hear clearly and easily, they must exert increased mental efforts to try to decipher the distorted/incomplete messages the brain receives. This is taxing. When communications are difficult and become frustrating for all affected parties, the person with untreated hearing loss is likely to eventually become more isolated and withdrawn. This is a scenario that in turn is known to increase their risk factors for cognitive decline.
When hearing aids are the prescribed, they are used as a treatment that reintroduces missing sound stimuli to the brain. Optimal success for understanding/interpreting sound signals again will depend in part on the brain’s ability to “rewire” itself over time. (This process is called neuroplasticity.) According to Dr. Frank Lim, M.D., Ph.D, (foremost expert who has conducted numerous National Institute of Health-sponsored studies on brain/hearing loss interactions) “If you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later.” Research has shown that the sooner treatment begins, the easier and more likely it is that the brain can be retrained to allow better communications.
Treating hearing loss only helps make life better. The ability to stay socially connected with family and friends’ supports better overall happiness and a richer quality of life. This is threatened when untreated hearing loss interferes with the ease of social connections and activities. Studies have shown that not only do communication problems have the potential to degrade life quality, but they can also reduce overall potential for professional advancement and higher income opportunities.
Untreated hearing loss is a public health concern known to be linked to such conditions as:
- irritability, negativism, anger
- fatigue, tension, stress, depression
- avoidance, withdrawal from social situations
- social rejection, loneliness
- reduced alertness, increased risk to personal safety
- impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
- reduced job performance and earning power
- diminished psychological and overall health
If your Audiologist recommends treatment for your hearing loss, it is clearly in your best interest to listen, and to follow their advice for treatment since it stands to make daily life more enjoyable again, not just for you, but also for the lives of those around you!